Systems of governance are challenging to design because they tend to collapse into collusion, corruption, and plutarchy.
Here I propose three principles to strive for as design properties of a system of governance that if achieved tend toward plurality, and tend away from capture and plutarchy.
These are variations on the traditional principles of trustlessness, permissionlessness, and decentralization, which are paradigmatic organizing principles of web3. However, in practice, these principles tend to suffer from vague definitions (e.g. what counts as “sufficiently decentralized”?) which plays into the hands of opportunists and grifters that claim the benefits of the web3 mantle without practicing its tenants. In addition to the ambiguity of these terms, they tend to also be very difficult to achieve. Decentralization, for example, is challenging to achieve in the early days. This provides further aircover for wouldbe grifters.
In their place, I offer more precisely defined and tractable alternatives. May that we might design and adopt better systems of governance. These principles are:
Trustfulness no one must be asked to act contrary to their incentives.
Permissionfulness every user has, in principle, the same capacity for effect as every other. There is no admin mode, nor backdoor, no systematic advantage for some group (e.g. the wealthy).
Diffusiveness characterizes a protocol where power doesn’t accrue to any subset of users in such a way that undermines the previous two principles.
Diffusiveness is a generalization of notions like "democratic", "pluralist", and "decentralized". The difference is that rather than invoking ambiguous platitudes like, "Everyone should have a voice" or "no one group should have too much power", the principle of diffusiveness says, "at every timestep permission and trust should increase."
Whereas "democratic", "pluralist", and "decentralized" describe states, "diffusive" describes a direction of change; a governance system is diffusive if it has an intrinsic propensity to drift toward diffusion of permission toward other members of the community.
We can formalize these ideas by saying that:
1. Trustfulness is maintained whenever the dominant strategy for all players yields the desired outcome.
2. Permissionfulness is maintained if every possible stable protocol state could have been proposed and enacted by any player independent of their wealth, status, time in the network, etc. One familiar expression of this idea in popular culture is the "anyone can cook" principle in the Pixar movie Ratatouille (which should not be confused with "everyone can cook").
3. Diffusiveness is achieved when permissionfulness and trustfulness don’t decrease in the subsequent system state. This can be defined as a special type of trustfulness — since trustfulness is already a measure of incentive compatibility.
In symbols this might be:
Where is the dominant strategy for some player n, P is the protocol, loss is the score to be minimized, is some policy (series of strategies realized as moves) played by player i, and where is the protocol’s state at timestep t.
While the principles here don’t provide a concrete implementation, they may be useful in helping to discover a viable design.
The principles of trustfulness, permissionfulness, and diffusiveness offer a promising framework for designing non-plutocratic systems of governance. These principles emphasize the importance of fairness, inclusivity, and transparency, and can help to ensure that governance systems serve the common good rather than the interests of a privileged few.